Antony Fitzgerald is breaking boundaries as a 57 year old professional model – and now he’s pushing the door open for other mature models of colour to have a platform to be seen. For our Autumn ’21 issue, Antony shared in his own words creating a movement to change how we see age and colour in the fashion & beauty industry…
Photography by Ivan Weiss.
2021 and walking down Oxford Street I am amazed at the number of models of colour that I see in shop windows… but they are all under 30. Where are the 50+ models of colour who do fashion? “What do we have to do make a change and increase the visibility of models like me in the UK?”
I was brought up in 60’s and 70’s London. The only models of colour that I remember seeing were young people with a lighter skin tone than my own. But then I remember finding my father’s Z card in the early 70’s and, more recently, I wondered how often he worked as a model back then. It was an accepted fact that models of colour in the UK, when I was growing up, were far and few between. As I got older the industry became more inclusive. More recently, as the rise of the “Silver Fox” and “Silver Vixen” has captured the imagination of the media, I have seen many more models of colour in the lifestyle/commercial industry. But I often thought “where are the over 50 models of colour in the fashion and the beauty industry?”
On a whim, I signed with my first model agency in 2014 when I was 50. Because my look was different from the stereotype of a black man, I was signed as a character model. Desperate for a mentor to guide me, I shot with photographer and iconic model (since the 80’s) Jeff Marano. He gave invaluable advice about how and where to enter the world of fashion. It was he who encouraged me to approach Silver Agency in Paris, which was to change my career forever. Thus began my journey to seek out and bring together models of colour who could work on fashion and beauty campaigns.
I shot for Gucci and for numerous fashion campaigns. I did many editorials for magazines such as Hunger, Sleek, GQ China, Luncheon, etc. I walked for Junya Watanabe at Paris Fashion Week 2019 Autumn/Winter. I often wondered why I did not see more mature models of colour. I realised that this would never change unless I redressed the imbalance myself. Throughout my fashion journey, I have met some of the most extraordinary models of colour who I believe could and are changing the industry. To that end I brought them together for a shoot to increase their visibility – and “New Silver Generation” was born. A movement born out of a new breed of model who is confident, fearless and refuses to accept the status quo – preferring to change, through persistence, how we see age and colour in the fashion and beauty industry.
Venus came to my attention when she approached me on a film set and asked me if she could be a model in her mid 40’s. I said “yes!” We worked closely together to build up a portfolio and model strategy. Now she is modelling full time. She has tattoos, dreadlocks and a killer smile that defies any preconceived ideas you might have about black women. I see her as the “future of fashion”, although growing up it is probably not how other people saw her. Her blog http://www.yesyoucanmodelover40.com is a testament to her relatability and how far the industry has come.
I was introduced to Chetan through a mutual friend. He is 50 years old now and as a younger man he modelled for major fashion brands. Now with his worldly experience clearly visible in his physicality, he has returned to modelling, with the New Silver Generation shoot showcasing his unique look. He agrees that the more open the media is to supporting mature, diverse models that can represent some of the top global fashion brands, the more likely it is there will be a demand for them. With increased profitability, it would be a game changer in the fashion and beauty industry.
As soon as Gloria contacted me, I knew that she would be in huge demand. A sixty plus dark-skinned woman with a white afro and brown/blue eyes, she stood out. She has defied the stereotypical grandmother role in favour of “The Great British Sewing Bee” and campaigns for Charlotte Tilbury and Space NK. She has changed the industry definition of the term “silver vixen” by being herself and not conforming to type.
I call Claudia my “latina femme fatale”, she is hauntingly beautiful. We met for the first time at a shoot in Oxford. We talked for hours on our way back to London. The next time I saw her was in a TV commercial for JD Williams. She truly demonstrates that not all models of colour have the same skin tone, hair texture or even features. Her presence in the industry shows that models of colour are not just one skin tone. We are all different. It makes a nonsense of tokenism and stereotyping.
I think that some of the obstacles to older models of colour are that they are often seen as urban or lifestyle rather than high-value, aspirational or glamorous. Some agencies appear to apply a quota to the number of models of colour that they have on their books. I have heard too many being told “you have a great look but unfortunately we already have someone else with a similar look”. And yet, often you will see multiple caucasian models with a remarkably similar look within the same agency. The words of my friend and fellow model of colour Sanjay Prabhakar comes to mind, “Passion and persistence.”
Tokenism is particularly divisive because it allows only a tiny trickle of models into the industry and prevents diversity amongst mature models of colour. The New Silver Generation shoot clearly shows that as models we have different looks under the banner of “models of colour”. To put us all in the same campaign and market it to a broad cross-section of society is good business strategy. We are not all the same. It reminds me of the campaign I did for Happy Socks with my friend Evon (known for JD Williams). They used only models of colour and it worked because we all have a very individual look. Ground-breaking for a fashion brand. A lesson for everyone. I am so proud to have shared that experience with her.
The New Silver Generation is here to show that it is not about the skin colour, age or body shape, it is always about the person. “So why are older models of colour invisible”? Because older models of colour in the UK are under-represented in fashion magazines, fashion shows, boutique and premium model agencies and the fashion and beauty media generally.
The challenge to brands is to reach out to a more diverse target audience using older models of colour (who reflect a changing ethos post the Coronavirus Lockdown), rather than relying on outdated stereotypes. “People” sell products, not “stereotypes”. We want the fashion and beauty industry to recognise this so that there is no need for initiatives like New Silver Generation.
Challenge tokenism by being “fabulous, aspirational and groundbreaking”. Show your support for colour and age diversity within the fashion and beauty industry by following us on @new.silver.generation #newsilvergeneration
Words by Antony Fitzgerald
Photography by Ivan Weiss @ivanweiss.london
Assistant Photographer @tomtrevatt
Stylist Assistant @dunkpond
Producer and Creator @antonyfitzgerald1964
Producer Assist @joeladamagueye
New Silver Generation:
This article was originally published in the Autumn ’21 issue of My Soho Times. View it online CLICK HERE!
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